'Knock on wood,' Owner-Op of the Year Glen Horack's money-making ways set to grow

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Updated Aug 29, 2022

This edition of Overdrive Radio features Owner-Operator of the Year Glen Horack, based in Elkland, Missouri, and so named in Overdrive’s coproduction of the awards program with the Truckload Carriers Association at the TCA annual conference in March in Las Vegas. Horack started team driving with his wife, Karla, after 2008, the one year -- "knock on wood," Horack said -- his one-truck business truly struggled in the depths of the Great Recession.

Running team in the aftermath, as you’ll hear in part 1 of 2 featuring my June 2022 conversations the Horacks, the pair came out from under debt taken on as freight fell off quickly. It's a testament to the owners’ ability to adjust their reefer-hauling operation alongside three-decade partners in Prime, Inc., where they're still leased.

Hear both Glen and Karla speak to the experience of training each other, of a fashion, when Karla got her CDL training on the truck with Glen ("if I'd had a tire thumper, I might have thumped him a few times," she joked). You'll hear Glen’s history trucking alongside his family life; his per-mile set-aside strategy developed over the years to guard against the potential for unforeseen repairs; white-out, white-knuckle blizzard conditions in Nebraska; and how the Horacks have persevered in business together through it all. …  Take a listen:

[Related: Owner-Operator of the Year Glen Horack 'in good shape' at the top for a run toward the finish line]

Contents of the video version of the podcast at the top: 
00:00 A conversation with team owners the Horacks
03:06 Work and life on the road
07:57 Family
09:00 Karla gets into trucking
11:06 Glen’s cabover
11:51 Taking the kids on the road
12:27 Friends and dispatchers
13:26 Karla’s experiences in trucking
16:41 Husband and wife team
18:15 Blizzards in Nebraska
19:12 Strategy for leasing trucks
22:33 Formula for setting aside savings
23:39 Glen’s 2022 Peterbilt 579 Ultraloft
25:03 Preview for next week

Podcast transcript: 
Glen Horack: Knock on wood. I've been here 30 years. I've made money every year, except for 2008 when nobody in the industry made money.

Todd Dills: That was the voice of owner-operator of the year Glen Horack, based in Elkland, Missouri, and so named in Overdrive's co-produced program with the Truckload Carriers Association at the big event back in March in Las Vegas. Horack teams with his wife, Karla Horack, a hauling partnership whose in-cab portion, at least, started during that tough time that Glen mentioned up at the top, the depths of the Great Recession.

Running team in the aftermath, as you'll hear in this part one of two featuring my June 2022 conversations with the Horacks, they came out from under debt taken on as freight fell off quite quickly, a testament to the owners' ability to adjust their reefer hauling operation alongside three-decade partners in Prime Inc., out of Springfield, Missouri, where Horack’s still leased to this day.

I'm Todd Dills, as usual your host for Overdrive Radio. And today we'll explore the Horacks’ partnership forged in-cab, as well as some of Glen's history trucking, alongside his family life.

Glen Horack: I have people tell me all the time, "Why do you lease a truck? Why do you lease?" Because we put so many miles on it, by the time I get it paid for it's wore out.

Todd Dills: We'll hear about a per-mile savings set-aside strategy Glen has developed over the years to guard against the potential for unforeseen repairs and other necessary outlays.

Glen Horack: Which usually is anywhere from $500 to $750 a week, usually.

Todd Dills: About Karla's experience training under her husband before fully taking the wheel herself.

Karla Horack: If I had a tire thumper, I would have thumped him a few times.

Todd Dills: And about white-out, white-knuckle blizzard conditions in Nebraska.

Karla Horack: See, all of us in a row were just rocking back and forth. Thankfully just none of us tipped over to hit the other one. But that's been my scariest time out here so far.

Todd Dills: The very fact that the pair are well on their way toward retirement, looking out several years, is remarkable in itself, given last year owner-operator Glen Horack suffered a heart attack. It put him off the road for nearly six months. Coming back in, he ordered a brand-new 2022 Peterbilt 579 to lease, as what he's saying will be his next to last truck. That process started in October of 2021. He hauled in a loaner truck from Prime until he finally took delivery of the rig in May of this year. On the other side of the quick break, we'll drop right into June 2022, my long conversation with both Glen and Karla. Here we go.

Glen Horack: We stay pretty busy, but we've been just running the system everywhere. We were on a dedicated for five years from southwest Florida to northwest Canada, and the Canadian customers kind of fizzled out. So then we just went back to running the system. Their economy is actually worse than ours is, far worse. Because that's when we hauled those flowers up there out of Miami. And if you’re not making the money, you're probably not giving people flowers.

We're doing pretty good for the most part, but there's certain areas of the country is kind of dead right now, like the Northwest. In the last two months I've been up there to between Salt Lake or Washington. Five or six times I had to dead-head all the way to California to get loaded, because freight was just slow up there.

I think the produce in the Northwest has kind of been strange this year. In the spring, usually hauling cherries and strawberries, onions. And it just seems like they're not there this year. I'm over here on the east coast right now, and they're saying it's kind of slow here right now, too. Which usually right now is about when it does start slowing down for Fourth of July. Everything kind of dies off till after the Fourth, and then produce usually goes good the rest of the year.

We do a lot of pharmaceutical stuff. It just pays outrageous money, and it don't weigh nothing.

Todd Dills: Good fuel mileage out of that too. Light loads ...

Glen Horack: I mean, some of that pharmaceutical stuff is one box. The whole trailer. Because they'll only put so much value-wise in the trailer.

Well, we have the same dispatcher all the time. He works Monday through Friday, six to six basically, and probably one weekend a month. And then we have fill-in dispatchers when he's not there. But we usually have all our stuff taken care of before he goes home. And yeah, like I said, he's my partner. He's not my... I ain't his boss. He ain't my boss. We work together. And if I don't make no money, he don't make no money. Vice versa. It works out real well, having the same one all the time.

Todd Dills: What is his name, and how long have you been working with him in particular?

Glen Horack: It is Jeff Allie, and he's been my dispatcher... Karla, when did we get Jeff? Do you remember how long we've had Jeff? At least five or six years, I believe. The dispatcher before him I had for 17 years, and she just moved up to a different position in the company. Was Trish Brewer. Well, she teaches what they call an ACE two class, which helps people transition from company driver into lease, pretty much teaches them how to read their settlements, and basically just run their business. It's pretty much a business class. She does that Monday through Friday, and I guess she does a lot of the special projects too.

Todd Dills: Do you get involved in those classes? Do they kind of lean on any of their experienced owners for that?

Glen Horack: Not for the classes, not too much. I mean, she used to refer people to me all the time to help them transition, and to help them out with their... If they were struggling running their business and stuff. I have quite a few people over the years that she'd call me in and say, "Can you talk to this guy? He's having a tough time trying to make things work." And yeah, we met quite a few drivers over the years when I was on her board. Knock on wood. I've been here 30 years. I've made money every year, except for 2008, when nobody in the industry made money. We really didn't take a loss, but it wasn't pretty. I actually put a lot of fuel on credit cards that year. After that year, that's when Karla came to work, and we got everything paid off and back on track.

Todd Dills: How was the transition for Karla? Was it the first time she had come out on the road with the CDL?

Glen Horack: Yes. I trained her. And she was working at Macy's before that, working at Macy's and raising kids.

Todd Dills: How many children do you have?

Glen Horack: I’ve got two, a boy and a girl. My son, he works for Mercy Hospitals in their IT department. And my daughter works for Peterbilt there in Springfield, Missouri. And my son, he lives with his girlfriend. They bought a house together and stuff, and they've been together quite a while. So I don't see... Neither one of them in a hurry to get married with things working like they are. And my daughter is a single mother. She’s got two biological kids and three adopted kids. She was married, and it was a bad issue. So now she's a single parent.

Todd Dills: Do you guys spend a fair amount of time with those grandkids, I imagine, when you're home?

Glen Horack: Oh yes, yes. I hear it from my kids all the time. "Why didn't you spend money like that on us when we kids?" I didn't have it when you were kids.

Todd Dills: And looking back to that other time when money was in short supply, the 2008 year that owner-operator Horack mentioned earlier, well, Glen's longtime life and now driving partner then told her story of joining Glen on the truck around the time. Partnership between the pair, as it extended into the professional realm with their trucking business and into the cab, was sold in part by Glen as a way the two could see some of the country together, most places for the first time, if not for Glen. So that sales pitch, though, didn't always work out as advertised. This husband and wife hauled to erase debt taken on during the financial crisis of the Great Recession. And remember, Karla Horack was working at Macy's immediately before she went out with Glen to train and get her CDL. But this wouldn't be the very first time, anyway, that she piloted a large vehicle.

Karla Horack: Well, before I went to Macy's I drove a school bus for a couple years, and I got fired for that job, because the kids didn't like having to follow my rules and sit down, and behave themselves. But if you talk to a couple of boys in the shop that rode my bus, they said, "Man, we liked you the best." So go figure.

But yeah, when I quit there, then I went to Macy's. And I think I was there for eight or nine years. So it was fun trying to follow his directions. Such as out on the training pad he was trying to teach me how to back, and his terminology and my terminology don't match. His “come around with the steering wheel” is, “no, I turn left or right. I don't know what ‘come around’ means.” I wasn't out here. I mean, I'd come out with him a couple of weeks, different times. Mom would stay with the kids, and I'd come out with him for a week or so. And the one year I went out with him and he had the doghouse still. That was absolutely horrible. No air-ride seats. I mainly sat up on the doghouse, because it was more comfortable to sit than the passenger's seat. And I said, "No, not till you get a different truck."

Todd Dills: Hauling in that cabover at the time, for Glen it marked his brief turn from Prime in his early days there to Dart Transit out of Eagan, Minnesota, which didn't last very long at all before he was back leased to the Springfield, Missouri, headquartered fleet. Karla remembers that cabover well.

Karla Horack: He didn't realize till we took a shower, I had a humongous bruise on my leg. And he says, "What's that for?" I said, "I told you, the door handle keeps hitting." He reached over there and yanked that door handle off, and turned it around, and slapped it back on, and tried to put a towel on it to keep... But it didn't help, because even the front of my knees were hitting the front, because with no air ride you're stationary, and you'd hit the bumps, and your knees would hit the dash. And it was much nicer with his later trucks.

When the kids were born, they were still little when he started Prime. I want to say Ashley was in kindergarten maybe. Kindergarten or first grade, one of the two. And they each went out on the road with him. So with my son in Scouts, he got to get all his little patches from all the states. And my daughter stayed out with him and she had a good time. He took her to the beach and Six Flags in Texas. And so they got to have a good time when they went out with dad. Then they got older and got into sports and stuff, and that kind of stopped. But it was definitely different.

Todd Dills: Karla would eventually become close friends with Glen's second primary dispatch partner at Prime, Trish Brewer, when the prior dispatch partner moved on and Brewer took over the reins

Karla Horack: And I was still working at home then. So it was while I was still at Macy's and stuff. Because Trish and I would go out for lunch or dinner, and I'm like, "I got it. Glen's paying for it." And we'd just tell Glen, and he'd just start laughing. "You're paying for dinner. Trish and I are having a good time." So we were friends before we even started going out on the truck, and we had Trish for a while. So she'd call him up when she was having a hard time with a driver, and you could tell that she was trying to calm down, because she'd actually talk to him for over half an hour or better. Leave everybody else on hold. But she'd calm down and take off. It's like she was talking to her big brother.

And then we got Jeff, and we're still training him, but he's getting better. He's getting better. My family has traveled always. We had a camper. We'd go all over. So I was used to being out on the road, or going camping and whatever. So basically it was kind of like that. But back then I didn't cook on the truck or anything. That wasn't until later. But it was the point where when I was training, we'd be at the very back of the lot, and run to the bathroom way up at the front. He was like, "Yeah, no, this isn't going to work, we’ve got to get closer to park.” Because he didn't like me walking... I'd have to wake him up to go up to the bathroom and stuff. So that was a little bit of a transition.

The truck was actually still big enough to where it was like being in the camper when I’d travel with my parents and stuff. The bad part about it is, when I was training, he had a hazmat license then, and since I was still with my trainer's license, I didn't have that. So I would have to sit up front and twiddle my thumbs and be bored to death, while he ran the hazmat loads, because I couldn't drive. If it was a regular load I could drive. But without having my hazmat part of my license, I couldn't. And that's boring as can be, especially if you're used to...

And I've told him, I said, "Well, I want to go see this." "We're not allowed to" "What do you mean? You got to go see it." "Well, that was when trucks were allowed to. Now trucks aren't allowed to go see it." And I'm like, well, that really sucks. Because he had got to go to Mount Rushmore and different ones, and I still have got... I mean, I finally got to see the Hoover Dam, because we broke down in Vegas, or we broke down in Cali, and the closest place was Vegas. They towed us to Vegas, and we were there for a week. And we got a rental car, and I actually got to go see the Hoover Dam. So I'm like, "Hey, look, I finally got to see it." Because you're up on a bridge. And the only thing you see are the lights.

I know friends of ours have gone to see Mount Rushmore, but they're bobtail. We're never bobtail. We're always under a load. So you can't take a trailer anywhere. I'm like, “I want to go see some of the places you got to see that I've not got to see.” I see the highway. Boring. There are a few passes that we take from Phoenix. Is it out of Phoenix that we go north? Where there’s the arch in the road? The Wilson's arch, what I see going up? We're in the two-lane road going north of...

Glen Horack: Moab.

Karla Horack: Moab. Going through. And that's really pretty. I've got to stay off the highways, when they give you all these little bitty towns, and they're not made for 53-foot trailers. It's fun. But yeah, it wasn't too hard to transition. It's just every now and then, as we've been in here longer, if I had a tire thumper, I would have thumped him a few times. But it's not too bad. We came in one time after... And we stay out longer, because the kids are grown and stuff. And that's when he finally said, "The kids are grown. They got a job. You're coming out with me. I can't sleep behind the students anymore. I can't do it."

Glen Horack: There's a lot of people that come into business that have never been away from home in their life. And most of them don't work out real well.

Todd Dills: Glen at the time had been teaming with drivers relatively new to Prime, CDL holders he was tasked with helping learn the ropes of the company. Over time it just got to the point that his comfort level with yielding control of the truck was just too much.

Karla Horack: When I would pick him up at the yard, he'd make me drive home. And we just live 30 miles up from Springfield from the yard there. And he'd be sound asleep before I even crossed over 44. And I'm like, really? And then when I started driving, he'd still make me drive. And I'm like, “wait a minute. I drive now, too. I want to sit in the passenger seat every now and then.” But that was when he said, "I can't do it anymore. You got to go out with me." So we've been out for a while, and it was to the point where it's just like, OK. We came home, and we were fighting about something, and I went back and took off the lock, and then the guy said, "Well, you didn't have the lock on." I said, "I just went back and took it off. Here it is in my hand." And he was like, "Don't be yelling at him." Well, he's an idiot. I can't help it that we just... And he's down there, and they were saying they called Trish on us. And Trish is like, "Who? Oh, nevermind. That's a husband and wife team. Just leave them alone."

Same thing out on the training pad when he was trying to teach me to back, and he was yelling and screaming at me, and I was yelling and screaming at him back. And I said, "Yeah, you don't like it because your other students couldn't do that. I can." And Trish got called, and she started laughing. She's like, "They're married. it's OK. Just ignore it." And then she called Glen to say, "You really have to behave yourself better."

The scariest time I guess I had at all, we're going through Nebraska, and all of a sudden we had white-out conditions, and I was driving. And I missed my turn, so I had to go down the road and turn around and come back. And by then, when we got that way, we were following behind the plow trucks, taking us into this little parking lot. And I couldn't see anything. And he's said, "Well, let's go in and eat." So I just held onto him and went in. And when we came back out I said, "How do I find the truck?" He said, "Just walk here and go straight." So I walked straight. It's literally blinding conditions. Winds blowing. You can't literally see anything. I came up to a trailer. I walked up and down the trailer, saw it wasn't ours. So I went to the back of the trailer, went to the next one, and got to the middle, found it was ours and went to the front to get in. We got up the next morning, there wasn't snow anywhere. And I'm like, how is this possible? The wind was blowing so hard, I mean, all of us in a row were just rocking back-and-forth. So thankfully none of us tipped over to hit the other one. But that's been my scariest time out here so far.

Todd Dills: Before Karla went out hauling she remembers her involvement in the business as handling pretty much everything as it relates to bookkeeping for tax and other purposes, amid household work, work at Macy's and elsewhere. She took care of payments needing to be made. Not Glen's truck payments, though. Throughout his career he has taken care of those through settlement deductions, always under a lease, and on a quick trade cycle aimed in part at being under warranty, and minimizing maintenance outlays. It's a strategy that's worked for him, as he describes here.

Glen Horack: We lease our trucks, and it's basically a three-year lease for what the miles we put on them. We'd been trading every two years. We get rid of them before the warranty runs up.

Todd Dills: Is that the same strategy you've had in place when you were solo back then?

Glen Horack: Yes. I mean, I did the full terms on the leases then, because I didn't run the miles. And my last truck I'm going to write a check for. And then we'll slow down, and she'll probably go home, and I'll just work when I want to then. It's just that I have people tell me all the time, "Why do you lease the truck? Why do you lease it?" Because we put so many miles on it, by the time I get it paid for, it's wore out. Plus with the lease, I drive a new truck all the time.

Todd Dills: You avoid the maintenance headaches, right?

Glen Horack: Right. I mean, basically with our lease, it's pretty much a bumper-to-bumper warranty, except for wear items. So just like anything would be. I take care of oil changes, and that kind maintenance, and any kind of thing that is just a wear item. But other than that, all the major components are covered.

Todd Dills: So your tires and brakes ..,

Glen Horack: Tires and brakes. Basically anything that costs me under $500 I pay for out of pocket. And then I've got a maintenance fund too, and I've got an emergency fund set aside.

Todd Dills: Have you been able to build that emergency fund back up after your heart attack, and the time away from the road?

Glen Horack: No, not really. Actually, I haven't even started it yet, because I figured I'd get first... I'd go to the end of the year, and then I start it up again. I figure when... I mean, I've got personal emergency fund in my own bank, but... I got one that I keep at Prime, that I put so much a week in usually, and that way easier to get repairs done, and just they can send the money and everything.

Todd Dills:

And that's the one you haven't started contributing to again since you were down?

Glen Horack: Right. Like I said, the truck is a new truck. Pretty much everything is going to be covered right now. I'm not changing tires in the first six months or nothing. On January 1st I'll probably start it back up. She's trying to get back on her feet still. I mean, we're in good shape, but I just like having a certain amount set aside that I don't have to worry about. Got us through the last time.

Todd Dills: Do you have a formula for how much you do put aside when you're doing that?

Glen Horack: I usually put 12 cents a mile, which usually is anywhere from $500 to $750 a week usually. And the reason I do the is that way if I'm not having a short week where I'm not running a lot of miles, then they ain't taking and putting a lot in there.

Todd Dills: Why 12 cents? How did you arrive at that figure?

Glen Horack: I just picked it out of thin air. Originally the first one I ever done I started at 15 cents. And that was a little high, because for some weeks I don't need to put that much in there. So then I went to 10, and, "Let's go back to 12," and we've been there ever since.

Todd Dills: Kind of found that sweet spot.

Glen Horack: Balance.

Todd Dills: Balance between money you need right now for everything going on at home, and for the truck itself, versus setting aside for the future.

Glen Horack: It's basically about $30,000 a year that I put in there.

Todd Dills: That truck you're in right now, is it 2022 or '23?

Glen Horack: '22. I don't know how they do that, because there's guys that have got trucks before I got mine, and they're 2023. Mine is a 2022. But mine was built back in September and sat on the lot all the way up till I got it in May, because they were missing three parts of it. Sensor for the dash, a computer or an ECM. And I forget what the other one was, but it was some kind of sensor too. Basically computer parts or sensors. It's a [inaudible 00:24:46]. It's a 80-inch sleeper.

Todd Dills: His 2022 579 won't be his last, but his next to last truck, provided the plans Glen mentioned there come fruition. The next one he'll buy outright in one fell swoop, and ride out to retirement. Though the Horacks have been through a lot the last couple years, it's clear they're on a mission. Next week we'll pick back up with Glen to hear his advice for those new to the trucking business, with a mind toward building a business themselves, whether buying outright, leasing or a combination. Here's a bit of a preview.

Glen Horack: And I have never had any desire to have more than one truck, because nobody takes care of your equipment like you take care of your equipment.

Todd Dills: A big thanks to Glen and Karla Horack for their time.

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